When Small is BIG!

We often affectionately refer to these retailers as “Mom and Pop Stores.” Over 99% of all small business saturday imageUS businesses qualify, by federal government standards, as small (500 or fewer employees) and, proudly, you might be one of these 23 million small business owners. We celebrated #SmallBusinessSaturday in the US on November 29, by encouraging people to patronize those local businesses: over 63% of the funds they generate stay in their own communities.

Some might say, fairly, I have a special fascination for entrepreneurs. My mom’s grandfather was the town butcher in Etna, Pennsylvania and my dad’s father sold coffee is downtown Pittsburgh during the depression before starting a glass minerals sales firm (which my father later took over – and is now owned by my brother, Joe). My sister, Mary, also worked for the family business at one time. And it is one of my great honors to teach on the subject of entrepreneurship at Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) and expose my students to this challenging life philosophy. I’ve often explained that teaching people to work for someone else is so very different from teaching people to work for themselves. Entrepreneurs are the ones who create relationships with their clients, often keep their own books and choose their best marketing modes, engage with their audience on social media and, frankly, clean their own bathrooms.

Every year for #SmallBusinessSaturday, I select a few of these entrepreneurs to share a few insights about these folks and their stories on my blog – because there a jewels in each story. With that, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to Pat and Dave Wallett, Jose Montano, Joe Trojcak and the Wert family.

DSCF2673My youngest sister, Pat (in the violet jacket in the photo on the left, with designer Lauren Gahres), owns Wallett’s Flooring in Hummelstown with her husband, Dave. Opened in July 1992, they have worked alongside each other since that time, now employing eight full-time and two part-time staff (who are cooperative students from the Dauphin County Technical School). You never want to play numbers games with my sister, unless you like to lose; she has an amazing ability to organize numbers in her head! Pat pays attention to every detail and stays current with the latest trends in flooring. Dave handles the installation side of the business. What I most admire about the way my brother-in-law and sister run the business is how she and Dave perfectly complement one another and operate as a team; I surely know that my husband and I couldn’t do what they do on a day-to-day basis! (We barely survived wallpapering a bathroom together!) They’ve also managed to assemble an awesome team to serve their customers, which has been an absolute necessity especially as of late – because she’s dedicated a Herculean amount of time and energy to help my parents through my Dad’s latest health challenge.

Next, I headed to midtown Harrisburg to visit former student Jose Montano at his business of eight years, JM’s Thrift & Vintage. Located on North Third Street, Jose lived in Midtown and opened his business, desiring to serve his own neighborhood. In the last two years, he has added new services to lineup: buying gold and performing estate valuations DSCF2676and appraisals. His vivacious, welcoming personality is well-suited to his business; he converses with his regular clients by first name and is a known quantity in a neighborhood where many businesses have come and gone. Jose told me that one of the great benefits of pursuing entrepreneurial studies at HACC came in my classroom when we discussed how all businesses go through cycles, and that it is normal for businesses to experience ebbs and flows. Jose doesn’t let the daunting task of running a downtown Harrisburg business overwhelm him; he’s not in denial about the unique obstacles that his location can pose for some of his customers. Folks choosing to visit and sample his variety of business offerings usually come back again, because each visit is like a treasure hunt: you can never anticipate which one-of-a-kind arrivals will strike your fancy.

DSCF2683Joe Trojcak (photo right), owner of Progressive Enterprises, just released his first book, Focus On Your Light: Finding the Spark to Forge Your Own Path in Business; I found him at his book-signing in midtown with his co-author and longtime friend, John Thrush (photo left). I became acquainted with Joe through a colleague at HACC, where he is an adjunct professor in Music Business, and finally took the opportunity to meet him when one of my students changed his major from Entrepreneurial Studies to Music Business. Joe welcomed me to his Elizabethtown home, where his studio is located, to get the official tour and hear the Progressive Studios story two years ago. Joe has been sharing his story in the classroom and throughout Central Pennsylvania in speaking engagements – which he’s now published because people encouraged him to share his experiences in print.  He also scored a forward by Major Dick Winters, extending his well-known “Hang Tough” theme appropriately to the Trojcak family journey, and how it influenced the pursuits of Joe’s life. Joe and I share a value of using transparency in the classroom, because our students gain from our practical application of our respective subjects to life. If you’re looking for a good story, inspiration or advice in forging your entrepreneurial dreams, pick up Joe’s book.

Finally, our doorbell rang about 6:40pm Saturday evening. Former student Tyler Wert arrived with our gorgeous fraser fir Christmas tree from his family’s business, Blue Ridge Christmas Tree Farm. He has been spoiling his old, sentimental professor the past several years by picking our tree out for us. (Ty [photo right] was also concerned about my 87 yr. old husband [photo left] getting the tree in the house, because this is the kind of thoughtful young manchristmas tree with ty he is.) He also knows that it is our last Christmas season in our current home (and that I’m a tad emotional about it); I’ve told him that I fully expect this tree to help prospective buyers fall in love with our home! During the spring and fall, the farm also sells live dug evergreens; I’ve already asked Ty to reserve one for our new home, wherever that may be. Perhaps what I love most about their business: the experience they provide for their returning families to share by selecting their Christmas tree. Enjoy fare from the food truck parked beside the store, pick a pre-cut tree or get a cart and walk their 130 acres to pick your perfect tree. While their staff prepares your tree (shaking those loose needles off, drilling the trunk for a fit on your tree stand, netting it for easy transport), you can visit their heated shop for cut-out photos, a new lawn or tree ornament, or to drop a donation in one of the Salvation Army’s red kettles. The Wert Family has a real heart for making your holidays more precious!

So, there it is: my thanks to those who actively pursue what is aptly referred to as “the American Dream.” Here’s to their bravery, creative enterprise, dedication, passion and willingness to surmount obstacles of every size and shape. Here’s to the entrepreneurial spirit upon which our country was built, and upon which our communities are strengthened. For your ability to work as a complimentary team, I salute Pat and Dave Wallett. To Jose Montano, your commitment to “stay the course” is the right one. Thanks to Entrepreneurial Evangelist Joe Trojcak for encouraging others to focus on their light. And to the Werts, kudos for providing a tradition families can enjoy together every year. Whether entrepreneurs are born or built (an ongoing discussion in my classroom), it is their self-reliance, insight, gumption and willingness to surpass customer expectations upon which successful enterprises are born.

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